Deliver First Class Web Sites

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This book review was published by Slashdot, 2006-10-18.

Deliver First Class Web Sites

Experienced and conscientious Web developers, in their efforts to learn from the mistakes of others and to avoid repeating them on their own projects, tend to accumulate tips and recommendations for the many aspects of successfully creating websites. These best practices take the form of bookmarked Web pages, saved articles, downloaded PDF files, scribbled notes on scraps of paper, and hastily created documents that will be better organized one of these days, when the developer's schedule becomes less hectic (sure...). Being difficult if not impossible to find later, these pearls of wisdom are rarely consulted before or during each new website project. What the developer needs is a book that brings together as many of these best practices as possible, without being overwhelming. Deliver First Class Web Sites: 101 Essential Checklists may be the answer.

Authored by Shirley Kaiser, this book was published by SitePoint on 10 July 2006, under the ISBN 978-0975841907. The publisher maintains a Web page devoted to the book, where visitors will find the book's table of contents online, a free preview (chapters 6, 12, and 14, in PDF format), editorial and customer reviews, a link to download all of the checklists (also in PDF) for all customers, links and an FAQ for ordering directly from SitePoint, and errata (none reported, as of this writing). The fact that SitePoint is willing to allow readers to post unmoderated comments and ratings of their books, suggests that it has real confidence in the quality of the book's material and readers' evaluations of it.

The aforesaid Web page also offers an online version of the index, but without any of the book's page numbers. At first glance, this might seem rather odd, but it does make some sense: Page numbers online would be of little use without the book itself, which of course already contains the index. Perhaps the index keys are offered to supplement the table of contents in helping the prospective customer learn what topics are covered in the book. In any case, this is the first time that I have seen a book's index online, and it will likely not be the last, if other publishers see the value in following suit.

In the preface, Shirley Kaiser explains that the book is intended to be "...a single source of solid information on best practices for everything from planning, designing, developing, and testing, to launching a website and maintaining it in the long term. By compiling all this information into checklists, we've turned a vast wealth of detail into convenient, easy-to-scan, simple-to-use chunks organized by topic." A technical reader quickly scanning the book, would likely conclude that the author's goal has been achieved, because the book's 101 checklists comprise over 500 checkpoints, and almost all of them are expanded with at least a paragraph of more detailed explanation; many have accompanying code or images to illustrate the checkpoint.

The book's 331 pages of material are organized into 16 chapters, followed by an appendix that focuses on e-commerce advice. The topics covered in the chapters are: how to get started on a Web development project; planning the website with a client; assembling the site's content; managing that content; site usability; color schemes and functionality; information architecture; designing the site's navigation; W3C standards and recommendations; site accessibility; optimization of site performance; search engine optimization; design principles; site testing, including accessibility and usability; launch preparation and execution; post-launch follow-up and maintenance.

In terms of the specificity and usefulness of the checkpoints, they are not all consistently stellar, which arguably would have been an impossible expectation anyway. They range from the obvious (e.g., "Use consistent markup") to the not-so-obvious but equally valid (e.g., "Perform content audits"). Some of the checkpoints may on the surface appear mundane, but they could be a lifesaver further down the road, should a project turn sour (e.g., "Archive a copy of the handover package"). Some of them may seem painfully obvious to any decent developer (e.g., "Check all hyperlinks" and "Test all scripting functions"), but even the majority of those are violated on a daily basis, even by major websites, which have no excuse for such sloppiness.

The primary value of this book is how it neatly consolidates a considerable amount of worthy advice culled from the author's research and decade in the trenches of the Internet. The book probably will not replace all of the best practices that any top-notch developer will have assembled over the years — especially as none of it addresses advanced topics — but it could easily serve as a solid foundation upon which to add any supplemental recommendations that the book does not cover. Moreover, the book's material is presented in a fairly concise and quite readable format, making use of what appears to be a font slightly larger than is found in the typical computer programming book.

My only complaint with this title is the way that SitePoint continues to include a growing number of advertising pages, at the end of the book, with the bulk of each page black (sometimes even a bit smeared), and containing absolutely no details about the books being advertised. When SitePoint first began publishing books, if memory serves, they would only include one or two such over-the-top pages — possibly because they had so few titles to advertise at the inception. But now they are truly overdoing it. In Deliver First Class Web Sites: 101 Essential Checklists, no fewer than a dozen pages are wasted on this unwanted advertising. It would have been far more effective and efficient to simply list the 11 books' titles with a brief summary of each. Whoever decided to waste all that paper and ink, clearly did not read and understand some of the most basic checkpoints presented earlier in the book concerning type size and page content.

But overall, Deliver First Class Web Sites: 101 Essential Checklists is a much-needed book that brings together a wide range of valuable Web development best practices.

Copyright © 2006 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

This book is available on Amazon

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